On Thursday, April 25, King’s kicked off celebrations for the year of its 20th anniversary of reopening in New York City, totaling 81 years since its founding. Students, faculty, and staff came together to hear and preserve stories of God’s faithfulness to their community.
This year’s event featured a panel that was involved at the beginning of the reopening of King’s in 1999 and 2000: Professor of Communications and Humanities Stephen Salyers, former King’s business developer Duanne Moeller, and alumnus Daniel Sanabria. Salyers joined King’s in 2000 after finishing his doctoral degree work in Florida. Moeller worked at King’s for 16 years as the dean of students from 1999 to 2006, during which time he was a part of the team that relaunched the College. Between 2006 and 2015, Moeller also held the roles of chief administrative officer, vice president of operations and business development, and executive director of educational ventures. He is now the president of two charter schools in New Jersey. Sanabria was a member of the first graduating class of the new King’s and is now the youth director of Crossover Youth Ministries.
When King’s reopened in the Empire State Building in 1999, its founders shared an audacious vision of preparing Christian leaders for the City and the world. Salyers, the College’s first full-time professor, saw an unusual opportunity in signing on with King’s, a new Christian higher education institution that was eager to innovate and grow as a community in the heart of an influential city. Moeller and his wife found a similar opportunity with King’s, and moved from California to New York City to answer their calling to raise up a generation of Christian leaders in one of the greatest urban centers of the world. In the first year of reopening, Sanabria saw an advertisement in the back of a magazine for a school in the Empire State Building. He enrolled despite his poor grades because he was compelled by the College’s vision for Christians working across all industries; he wanted “to be a leader and change the world.”
In the early days of the 1999 fall semester, King’s scrambled to open its doors to students. Despite this, all three panelists recalled the familial feeling on campus. On his first day, Sanabria walked in and was embraced in welcome by David Leedy, who was the director of student life at the time. Moeller said the student body loved to be together, spending recreation time in the cafe and the student lounge, or, as many students remember it, the “Slounge.” Salyers also instructed the same students multiple times over the first few years, forming strong bonds that extended beyond the walls of the classroom.
The first few years in the Empire State Building afforded the community a chance to try out new ideas and systems, and Leedy, now dean of students and the event’s moderator, asked the panelists to share about early iterations of King’s traditions. Salyers recalled that before there was Interregnum, there was “Block Week,” a time for professors and students to break from the normal classroom routine and experience the various offerings of the City, such as museums, shows, and historical neighborhoods. Moeller said an early challenge as dean of students was fostering student life. He was familiar with the House system, a common tradition in British schools, and he visited Harvard to meet with leaders of their House system. Moeller also pioneered the Honor Code, the King’s code of student conduct and accountability, and recalled the ceremony that preceded the current tradition of Convocation: “We used to have students dress in white robes and march out of the Empire State Building up 5th Avenue to a church to sign the Honor Code.”
A recurring theme was God’s faithfulness to King’s in times of trials and uncertainty. Only a year after the College opened, New York City endured the attacks of 9/11. The staff, faculty, and student body were able to use that time to minister to the outside community, and Sanabria distributed hundreds of Bibles in the days following the crisis. In 2012, when the Empire State Building did not offer to renew the College’s lease, Moeller and his realtor found the space where the campus currently resides. Not only did the building come almost ready-made to function as a school, but the Empire State Building let King’s out of its lease early so that classes could begin at 56 Broadway in the fall of 2012. Moeller believes King’s needed the Empire State Building in the early years to distinguish it from other schools and to attract new students. In a little over a decade, the College’s reputation preceded it: King’s was ready to move to a new and larger space, which God readily provided.
Even though King’s looks different in many ways from the College founded in 1938, Salyers sees its reopening as a continuation of its story and of God’s faithfulness to the school. Dr. Friedhelm Radandt, the last president at King’s in Briarcliff Manor, was the first president of the new campus at the Empire State Building, and he preserved the heart of the school’s identity through the transition. Salyers reflected, “I see King’s today as a continuation of what God wanted to do in a new place and a new time in the City. We have a vision for the College and things we believe God wants to do here, but it’s also a vision for people, not just an institution. I didn’t know what Dan was going to do when I met him 19 years ago, but I knew he was going to do something big. And he did, and it is.”
Moeller spoke about the PPE core that King’s developed upon its move to New York City. He said, “We have to start with Stan Oakes,” the head liaison to Campus Crusade for Christ throughout the College’s first decade, and Radandt’s presidential successor.
It was his vision to train students that would be able to compete with the best and brightest anywhere in the world. He thought education in the great ideas was essential to being able to compete and debate, convince, and persuade with arguments that were consistent with the biblical worldview. What are the ideas that shape society? They are found in the areas of politics, philosophy, and economics.
After the panelists shared their stories, they reflected on the lessons that King’s has learned as an institution, and what defining qualities of the College need to remain as the community grows and moves forward. Moeller said, through his experiences at King’s, he learned to continually invite God into every vocation and situation: “When you hit a roadblock, rather than fretting about it, or giving up, ask God to participate and overcome that. King’s will continue to have problems—every institution has its challenges—but invite God to work in the midst of that.” Salyers said King’s needs to hold fast to its community: “We’re still a very small community, and the stream of joy and kindness and love that runs through it historically has been so much to me personally, and brings zest to my life in the hard moments.” Sanabria encouraged the College to stay true to its common vision and purpose: “King’s developed me to be a world-changer for my own city in a way that I can go into the world without fear. Learn more, pursue your passions, share the Gospel, and love your neighbor.”